by Annette Bay Pimentel
Experience the true story of lifelong activist Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins and her participation in the Capitol Crawl in this inspiring autobiographical picture book. This beautifully illustrated story includes a foreword from Jennifer and back matter detailing her life and the history of the disability rights movement.
Jennifer Keelan was determined to make a change, but the way the world around her was built made it hard to do even simple things like go to school or eat lunch in the cafeteria. When the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law that would make public spaces much more accessible to people with disabilities, was proposed to Congress, Jennifer went to the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC to have her voice heard.
Discussion questions from SOMN
- Before reading the book, discuss the words “include” and “exclude” with the class. What does it mean to be included? What does it mean to be excluded? How does it feel to be included? How does it feel to be excluded? Instruct students to keep these feelings in mind as you read the book.
- What does it mean to be an “activist?” Have any students or their families ever been part of a protest or campaigned to make a change in the world, big or small? How did it make them feel?
- Why does her neighborhood school say that Jennifer doesn’t belong there?
- Why does Jennifer decide to become an activist? How does taking part in a protest or demonstration make Jennifer feel?
- Why do Jennifer and her friends crawl up the Capitol steps?
- What is the Americans with Disabilities Act? What is the purpose of the ADA? How do Jennifer and her friends react to the passage of the ADA?
- Discuss the idea of “empathy” with students and why is it important to understand the way someone else is feeling. Go through the book as a class and discuss how Jennifer feels about the things that happen to her. If they were in a similar situation, would students feel the same emotions? Why or why not?
Classroom activities from SOMN
- Watch parts or all of this video documenting the historic Capitol Crawl as a class. The Crawl starts at 5:50, and at 7:50 you can see Jennifer.
- As a class, discuss the role of the author and the role of the illustrator in creating a book. Break students into small groups, assigning each a two-page spread for closer examination. Work with students to explore the following questions: Where is their scene set? Who are the featured characters? What is happening? How do the illustrations work with the words to tell the story? Have each group present their ideas to the class.
- Thanks to the ADA, public spaces must take people with disabilities into consideration. For example, curb cuts allow wheelchairs to cross streets more easily. Ask students to identify the accommodations they see in their day-to-day lives. Can students think of other accommodations that could make life easier? Ask students to explore their neighborhoods and take photos of the accommodations they encounter and ideas to make things even more accessible. Come together as a class and share their discoveries.
- Jennifer is a confident child! When other students in kindergarten tell her, “You’ll never be one of us,” Jennifer knows they are wrong. She says that she thinks of herself as “just a friend waiting to happen!” What does this phrase mean? Adopt this phrase as the class motto while you are studying this book. How could this attitude change the way students see the world and other people?